Kilbeggan is a remarkable story of resurrection and resurgence. Until spring 2007, the distillery was out of production, until Cooley Distillery took an interest in reviving the brand, and decided to fire up the old stills. In 2010 the company bottled its first whiskey at the site – today Kilbeggan is restoring its former reputation as one of Ireland’s premium blended whiskies.
For its resurrection, we should thank the larger-than-life figure of John Teeling, who made his money in gold and diamond mining. Teeling created Cooley in 1987, converting a former potato distillery into a top-flight whiskey producer. The company’s importance to the Irish whiskey story cannot be over-estimated – not least its revival of a much-loved brand in Kilbeggan.
That distillery was founded in 1757 by Matthew MacManus. Setting the project on its path towards greatness, Kilbeggan really flourished under the stewardship of John Lock, who purchased the distillery in 1843. Treating his staff with unprecedented levels of kindness and respect, the town’s citizens came to his aid following a disastrous accident in 1866, when the steam boiler was damaged. Locke was unable to raise the capital to fix the vital piece of equipment beyond repair, yet the people of Kilbeggan rallied around Locke, and paid for a replacement boiler.
Sadly, Kilbeggan’s fortunes declined in the 20th century. Wars, prohibition and political rivalries helped to destroy the demand for Irish whiskey abroad. Production ceased between 1924-193. The Locke family decided to sell the distillery in 1947, due to dwindling finances and a lackuster market following the end of the Second World War. Eventually, the distillery was brought by a German businessman Karl Heinz Moller. Unfortunately, Moller was only interested in liquidating the distillery’s assets, which ensured no whiskey was made. Nevertheless, almost thirty years after the distillery closed, Kilbeggan was reopened as a museum, made possible by local enthusiasm and fundraising.
Yet the citizens of this charming town knew that a distillery with a pedigree like Kilbeggan should not simply be consigned to the history books. Salvation came in 1987, when John Teeling purchased Kilbeggan and decided to restore the distillery to its former glory. Recommencing production in 2010, Kilbeggan has become one of Ireland’s most sophisticated distilleries, although conversely it is the oldest working pot still producing whiskey in the world today. A change of ownership has not meant a decline in quality – in 2012, John Teeling sold Kilbeggan to Beam Suntory. However, visitors are very much welcome at the distillery, and, of course, encouraged to sample the small range of superlative whiskies.
But what is the quintessential quality inherent to Kilbeggan? The flagship brand is a blended whiskey that conveys a real pedigree and craftsmanship – ideal for drinking neat or as part of a cocktail. Double-distilled, this whiskey puts up quite a showing. Cereal notes and fresh barley on the nose are complemented by plenty of fruit, vanilla and spice.
In addition, the owners launched a new product to herald a new era for Kilbeggan – Small Batch Rye. Double-distilled, the whiskey is produced from a mash of malt, barley, and about 30% rye, a common practice in the 19th century. The first of its kind for over 100 years, if other Kilbeggan whiskies mature as well as this, then the future bolds well. The nose is bursting with cereal, honey and rich oak notes, as well as the signature fruit of Kilbeggan. Their Single Grain is another standout whiskey – 94% of the mash bill is made of meticulously-sourced corn, with the other 6% being malted barley. It has aromas of butterscotch, vanilla, orange fruits and other citrus fruits. Then a big wave of spices arrives. A great example of a modern Irish whiskey, the kind of which is restoring the country’s reputation as a leading producer of premium spirits.
Kilbegan Small Batch Rye
Kilbeggan Single Grain
Lower Main Street
Tel +353 (0) 57 933 2134
- Noel Sweeney
- Beam Suntory
- 7.5 million cases